The league is all that remains for Manchester United this season, while Arsenal look like a decent bet to win a trophy for the second year in a row after Monday's FA Cup tie. Early goals from Nacho Monreal and Wayne Rooney highlighted a dead even first half, but United boss Louis van Gaal handicapped his team with his subs, and the Gunners ran out 2-1 winners at Old Trafford.
While down a goal and chasing the game, Angel Di Maria got himself sent off by picking up two yellow cards seconds apart. Referee Michael Oliver booked him for diving, then showed him a second yellow for dissent after Di Maria grabbed his shirt in response.
Arsenal's opener came off a gorgeous move, started by Mesut Özil and Monreal with an exchange of passes on the left flank. The ball was eventually worked to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who skipped through a sea of United defenders with a fancy bit of footwork before playing a pass to Monreal, who finished past David De Gea at the near post.
United's response was almost instant, with Di Maria providing a perfect setup. He curled an in-swinging cross from the right wing with his left foot towards the top of the six-yard box, and Wayne Rooney was in a perfect place to head it in.
Neither team had significantly more chances or control of the ball than the other in the first half, so van Gaal's decision to bring on Michael Carrick and Phil Jones for Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw at halftime was certainly a strange one.
He looked like he might be absolved of criticism for those two decisions early, for two reasons. First, Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up an injury and was replaced by Aaron Ramsey, pushing the extremely effective Özil out wide. Second, United nearly scored in the 61st minute, when Di Maria shot just wide off a pass into space from Marouane Fellaini.
But United gifted Arsenal the lead less than a minute later, with Antonio Valencia inadvertently setting up his former teammate Danny Welbeck for a Gunners goal. His horrible backpass didn't come close to reaching De Gea, and Welbeck was able to go around the United keeper before passing into an empty net.
Down a goal and with a pair of mostly immobile, safe holding midfielders and a center back at left back, United had very little bite and struggled to create chances. Van Gaal tried to change things up by bringing on Adnan Januzaj for Marcos Rojo in the 73rd minute, but it didn't do much. United almost conceded another goal in the 75th minute, when De Gea came up with a huge save on Calum Chambers.
Two minutes later, United's day went from bad to worse when Di Maria picked up his red card in the 77th minute, and an Arsenal win looked very likely from there. Januzaj was booked for a dive in the penalty area in the 87th minute, and like Di Maria's, it appeared that Oliver got the call right. That was the closest United came to creating a scoring chance in the dying minutes.
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More from our team sites
Manchester United: De Gea, Shaw (Jones 46'), Rojo (Januzaj 73'), Smalling, Valencia, Di Maria, Blind, Herrera (Carrick 46'), Young, Fellaini, Rooney
Goals: Rooney (29')
Arsenal: Szczesny, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin (Chambers 66'), Coquelin, Cazorla, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Ramsey 51'), Welbeck (Giroud 74'), Sanchez
Goals: Monreal (26'), Welbeck (61')
1. Louis van Gaal ruined the game for United -- After conceding an early goal, United fought back to equalize, and went into halftime deservedly level. It was an even game to that point, with United looking capable of scoring again. So what did van Gaal do? He brought on Michael Carrick and Phil Jones for Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw. They were two defensive subs, and Arsenal had complete control of the game from then on. Antonio Valencia's giveaway led to the winner, but United was in no position to win anyway thanks to their manager.
2. Mesut Özil is hitting top form -- Injuries derailed Özil's debut season with Arsenal, leading to an average World Cup and start to this season. But Özil is looking more and more like the star he was when he first arrived at Arsenal, and he was arguably his team's most important player on Monday. He didn't notch a goal or an assist, but he was at the heart of all of Arsenal's best attacks -- including the opening goal -- and ran the show in midfield.
3. Angel Di Maria's red could be his defining moment -- Rumors have been swirling about a potential exit for Di Maria over the last month, and his sending off for two yellows in 30 seconds -- picked up for a dive, then dissent -- won't help him win over the United faithful or management. He might be remembered for this more than anything else.